Ivory curse: Poachers focusing on East Africa

Monday May 12 2014

The carcass of an elephant in DR Congo, where poaching has been rampant. Photo/FILE

In March, Kenya Wildlife Service director William Kiprono reassured Kenyans that wildlife numbers in the country’s protected areas were “healthy.”

The assurance came amid demands by conservationists to declare poaching a national disaster.

“Poaching has not yet reached rates alarming enough for it to be declared a national disaster,” Mr Kiprono said. “Our wildlife numbers are healthy according to international standards. So, I plead with Kenyans and other stakeholders to disregard suggestions that the numbers of our animals are diminishing... If the statistics have not been issued by us, they are unreliable.”

But, going by the poaching figures released by KWS as at the end of March, conservationists have every reason to worry. Poachers killed 18 rhinos and 51 elephants this year.

A study by conservation group Born Free indicates that it is increasingly becoming hard to keep East Africa’s elephants and rhinos safe from poachers, who are shifting their focus from Central Africa to East Africa due to its abundant wildlife.

The “proportion of illegally killed elephants” (Pike) reached catastrophic levels in Central Africa in 2009.


“By 2011, five out of 15 recorded sites in Central Africa were registering a 100 per cent Pike rate — meaning every elephant found dead had been illegally killed,” says the report, Ivory’s Curse: The Militarisation and Professionalisation of Poaching in Africa.

It is estimated that Central Africa’s forests could support more than a million elephants. As a result, Born Free has warned that East Africa — especially Kenya and Tanzania — is the next hunting ground for poachers to maintain supply to the Asian market.

READ: South Sudan conflict escalating wildlife slaughter

The research done by the organisation, with the help of C4ADS, a non-profit organisation that analysed the major causes of conflict and insecurity, found that wars in Somalia and the Great Lakes Region abetted the poaching of elephants and rhinos.

The study blames the militant group Al Shabaab and criminal networks for the killings of elephants in Kenya. The researchers said the weapons used come from local security forces.

“It’s not going to come as a shock to anyone that Somalia is implicated in the ivory trade. And again, much like Sudan, you have these actors that are able to move cross borders — from Somalia to different countries in the region. But probably the biggest part of that is the inability of some of those neighbouring countries to curb the ivory trade because they lack the resources to do so,” said Adam Roberts, Born Free chief executive in an interview with the Voice of America.

Today, no more than 50,000 elephants are left in Central Africa, with the vast majority in Gabon and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania were last year named by the Convention on International Trade on Endangered Species (Cites) as part of a “gang of eight” responsible for the wanton killings of African elephants. Other countries on the list are Malaysia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand and China.

Tourism is one of the major foreign exchange earners for the East African countries, apart from agriculture, and wildlife is one of the main tourist attractions.

Kenya Wildlife Service spokesman Paul Mbugua said that East African countries are aware of the escalating problem and have begun collaborating to wipe out poaching.